tv PBS News Hour PBS December 22, 2015 3:00pm-4:00pm PST
captioning sponsored by newshour productions, llc >> woodruff: good evening. i'm judy woodruff. gwen ifill is away. on the newshour tonight, a private u.s. company makes history by being the first to land a reusable rocket vertically after launching into orbit. also ahead this tuesday, a report card for the u.s.-- looking back at how the country has handled some of the year's biggest events, from the iran nuclear deal to terrorist attacks. and, the emerging danger of synthetic drugs, and who is at risk. >> i remember i woke up in the hospital. my throat hurt so bad and i was like, "why is my throat hurting?" and, that was because they had to put a tube down my throat, because i couldn't breathe. >> woodruff: all that and more on tonight's pbs newshour.
>> major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: >> lincoln financial-- committed to helping you take charge of your financial future. >> bnsf railway. >> and with the ongoing support of these institutions >> this program was made possible by the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> woodruff: in iraq, army units advanced deep into ramadi today, in a bid to recapture the key
city from islamic state control. it's the latest push in a slow-moving offensive. isis captured ramadi last may, striking a blow at the baghdad government. the city is capital of anbar province, the country's sunni heartland. iraqi officials reported sporadic fighting today in the city center. in afghanistan, taliban fighters pressed beleaguered afghan forces in a crucial southern province. the government sent reinforcements, and britain sent military advisers. alex thomson of independent television news has the story. >> reporter: fighting, even around lashkar gah-- the capital of helmand province. reports differ but there is no doubt that insurgents have come close to ousting the western- backed afghan army from the town of sangin. >> ( translated ): we are asessing the situation and sending supplies to the security forces. if there is any failure then the
ministry of defense, the interior ministry, the national directorate of security and security council will have a special agenda to solve it. things got so bad a key sangin official put his career on the line and took to facebook on sunday, writing to the afghan president: "i know that bringing up the issue on social media will make you very angry. but helmand stands on the brink. ninety men have been killed in gereshk and sangin districts in the last two days." the road via sangin to the strategic kajaki dam is cut by the insurgents-- so too routes to other areas of helmand province. ten british advisors flown to helmand now to advise the afghan, but they're miles away from the fighting. u.s. and u.k. special forces are also reportedly in helmand-- likely to be rather closer, >> woodruff: also today, a u.s. army sergeant accused of deserting in afghanistan was
arraigned before a military judge. bowe bergdahl faces charges for walking off his post in 2009. he was captured by the taliban, and finally released in a prisoner swap last year. bergdahl's appearance today came in a brief hearing at fort bragg, north carolina. an army spokesman summed up afterward: >> the judge explained sgt. bergdahl's right to be tried before a panel or a military judge. the judge also inquired if sgt. bergdahl wished to enter any motions or a plea at this time. sgt. bergdahl deferred all of these decisions to later hearing. >> woodruff: bergdahl could get life in prison if he's convicted at a general court-martial. the first body has been pulled from the muddy rubble of a landslide disaster in southern china. search teams in shenzen found the remains today, and continued hunting for at least 70 people still missing. a wave of earth and construction waste swallowed 33 buildings on sunday-- despite longstanding
warnings the site posed a threat. europe's migrant crisis reached a staggering record today. the director-general of the international organization migration announced the new numbers, in geneva: >> we have just published the figures of the one-- passing the one million mark for the number of refugees and other migrants heading north into europe; primarily out of syria but other areas also, and out of that number, the death total is very close to 3,700. >> woodruff: just today, 11 more people drowned when a boat carrying migrants to greece sank off the western coast of turkey. seven others were rescued by the turkish coast guard. and wall street surged for a second day, as oil prices rose. the dow jones industrial average gained 165 points to close at 17,417. the nasdaq rose 32 points, and the s&p 500 added nearly 18.
still to come on the newshour, a first in commercial space exploration; no indictments in the sandra bland case; a look back on this year's momentous world events, and much more. >> woodruff: it's been a long time since a rocket's descent has been big news, but last night there was a historic landing. after spacex, a private company founded by elon musk, launched a rocket on monday from cape canaveral in florida, it "stuck the landing," you might say, last night. the rocket booster landed gently on earth, a feat cheered at spacex headquarters, and that suggested we may be able to create re-usable rockets to explore further. our science correspondent, miles o'brien, joins me now.
welcome, miles. so how big a deal is this? >> judy, this is the holy grail for space. ever since the space age began, those of us who cared about exploring beyond have thought, wouldn't bit nice if we could reuse the craft. we've been throwing them away virtually the whole time. the space shuttle was an attempt to make it reusable. didn't work out so well some the idea you could take first stage of a rocket, kind of the money end of the rocket, if you will, and have it land intact gentlely to be fueled up, gassed up and launched again is truly a great moment. so, yeah, big deal. >> woodruff: why was it so hard to do before now? >> well, part of it is we didn't try for a long time. during the heavy days of the space race, we were too busy trying to beat the soviets to the surface of the moon, so we were very happy to throw things away rather than trying to figure this out. there was a penalty, you have to have extra fuel to bring it down
safely. then we got off on a tangent with the space shuttle thinking that would be reusable, so that didn't work out so well. so we didn't think about it. then we went in the wrong direction. now with entrepreneurs like elon musk and jeff bezos looking at this idea in a more bottom-line manner than nasa would, dare i say, we might get some progress. >> woodruff: so now does this mean it's easy to do that to, land a rocket back on earth? >> nothing in space is easy. and this is like balancing a broom pole on your nose, only harder, lots harder. so, yeah, it's been proven now. the trick is, if you really want to make it cost effective, you have to do this a lot, because frankly if you're only going to launch a few times a year, you might as well throw away the pieces. but if you're really going to ramp up and think about accessing space on a routine basis, having reusable first stage, having reusable pieces of these rocketeds really becomes a game changer. >> woodruff: so what does it mean for the future of space
flight? what does this mean that can now be attempted that looked a little further off in the future until now? >> yeah, well, look at the big picture here. what we're seeing here is orbit change dragmatically, it's not unlike what happened with the internet. built by the government, handed over the silicon valley. poof we get facebook and instagram. now nasa is stepping out of low earth orbit and is handing that domain to the likes of elon musk and jeff bezos and richard branson, who are trying to make businesses out of this. that's exciting. that means nasa can use its limited resources to do what it should do, go over the hill to the next horizon, in this case i'd like to see them go to mars. that's where they say they're headed. they need funding to do that. they need the focus. they don't need to be spending a lot of time flying taxis and fraightders into low earth orbit. instead, their private companies are willing to do it, and they're doing it faster, better
and cheaper. >> woodruff: so you mentioned these other entrepreneurs, jeff bezos landed a rocket recently in suborbit, whatever the term is. but... so you have this competition. what does that mean for the future? does that mean we're likely to see more attempts like this? >> competition is always good. it's what got us to the moon after all. when we lost that space race, nasa kind of got lost in space, if you will. now that we have viable, private enterprise competing and getting into twitter wars over who is doing a better job of it frankly, which is very entertaining to see billionaires go at it on twitter, when you see that kind of thing, that's really exciting. that means there might be a real business here. >> woodruff: suborbital flight is what i was trying to say. miles o'brien, space is getting exciting all over again. >> yes, indeed, suborbital or
orbital, judy. >> woodruff: thank you. >> woodruff: let's turn once again to the national conversation around policing, criminal justice and race. the latest development of note: a decision by a grand jury in texas to not indict anyone yet who was involved with the death of an african-american woman while in custody. jeffrey brown has the story. >> this case is very big for the citizens of waller county. it is even bigger for the family of sandra bland. >> brown: prosecutor darrell jordan, speaking last night. >> we have left no rock unturned and-- and the grand jury, anything that they've asked for, we've done our best to get it to them. >> brown: that grand jury's decision effectively cleared sheriff's officials and jail employees of criminal wrongdoing
in bland's death. as captured on video, the chicago-area woman was pulled over by a texas state trooper in july for making an improper lane change. it quickly turned into a confrontation, as bland refused to get out of her car, and trooper brian encinia brandished a stun gun. >> get out of the car! i will light you up. >> brown: bland remained in jail when she could not raise $500 dollars bail, and three days later, her body was found hanging in her cell. the local medical examiner called it a suicide, but the family rejected that finding. and, shortly before yesterday's decision, bland's family charged the grand jury was "a sham proceeding." >> it's the secrecy of it all. i can't even begin to tell you what's going on, because i myself don't even know what's going on, to not have my counsel be privy to any of this evidence that is being presented. >> brown: there've been similar
outcomes in several similar cases, including: michael brown's death in ferguson, missouri, where a grand jury refused to indict a white policeman. plus, the eric garner choke-hold death on staten island, new york. again, a grand jury decided not to indict a white officer. and last week, a baltimore judge declared a mistrial for the first officer charged in freddie gray's death in custody. back in texas, the prosecutor in the bland case says the grand jury will reconvene next month to consider "other issues"-- possibly including charges against the trooper. we get some further reporting on the sandra bland case and the reactions to it now, from molly hennessy-fisk, houston bureau chief for the los angeles times. molly, there's a lot we don't know here, including what exactly the grand jury was looking at, right? >> that's right. the evidence presented to the grand jury, what the special prosecutor said, there's a team of about five special
prosecutors, independent prosecutors who have been appointed to present the evidence to the grand jury. i spoke to some of them, and they said they could share some information, but they couldn't address specifics. >> brown: the special prosecutor said the grand jury will reconvene in january, so what do we know about what they'll look at then? >> well, they did say yesterday after meeting all day for the third time in six weeks, the special prosecutors came out late in the evening and said there would be no indictments returned against the waller county sheriff's office or the jail where sandra bland was held and where her body was found in her jail cell. but they said that the grand jury wanted to continue meeting, to continue investigating, and they'll reconvene january 6th. i asked them specifically whether they would be addressing the trooper who stopped sandra bland, that original traffic stop that resulted in her arrest and her being take on the jail. they wouldn't respond directly to address that. that's one of the specifics that
they said they couldn't discuss. but it is one of the matters that's still outstanding. >> brown: i gather that supporters of sandra bland are now preparing or now calling for federal... a federal role in all of this? >> that's right. today they called a meeting in front of the waller county courthouse, which is where the grand jury had been meeting previously. the supportedders gathered there urge and i talked to them ahead of time. they said they planned to ask for the justice department, the federal government to get involved and have their own independent investigation because they said they don't trust the local officials, the grand jury as well as those who are investigating the case. >> brown: molly hennesy-fisk, the houston bureau chief of the los angeles "los angeles times," thank you very much. >> thanks for having me. brown brown we broaden the discussion further with heather macdonald, a fellow at the manhattan institute, a
think-tank. brittney packnett, i want to start with you. were you surprised by the grand jury's decision? >> i'm sadly not surprised. as an activist and protester from ferguson and also as black woman myself who videotapes every single police encounter that i have when i'm pulled over because i live in that amount of fear, i'm sadly not surprised. and there are millions of americans not surprised by this outcome, and that should concern us all. >> brown: heather macdonald, your reaction? >> well, there was no evidence that this was a homicide, jeffrey. this was a suicide, and it's a tragic case. it's heartbreaking that sandra bland has died, but i don't know of any evidence the coroner found that this was a suicide, whether there was negligence on the part of the jail officials in not keeping a close enough suicide watch on miss plan, who reported that she had recently tried to commit suicide because of a miscarriage, that remains to be seen, but i don't think there's any evidence of criminal
wrongdoing here. >> brown: each case has its own specifics, but britsny packnett, you're saying you're not surprised because you see a larger pattern here? >> absolutely. over 1,000 people are killed each year by police officers in this country, and this year alone 14 police departments killed black people exclusively. so we see this trend happening every single day. and i find it fascinating that black women can be forthright on reality television and it's entertaining, but when we're forthright in our matters of constitutional rights and self-protection, it can be deadly, as it was in sandra bland's case. we need to be looking at the kinds of psychological damage she suffered at the hands of what happened to her, both during her arrest and during her jailing, and quite frankly, she never should have been arrested in the first place. >> brown: let me stay with you, brittney packnett. why do you think these indictments are hard to get? >> i believe these indictments are hard to get because there is a systematic issue at play. we have evidence of that systematic issue. we've done that research at
campaign zero. we continue to see evidence that the criminal justice system disproportionately jails black and brown people, and the issue of mass incars ration. so we know that this system was never built for folks like us. and we me that it continues to prevail against us. and so the reason why this can continue is because the system has never stopped it. >> brown: so heather macdonald, what's your response to that? do you see a systematic issue or a case by case? >> if this is an example of an indictment that somehow should have been brought against the police officer for murder, that's ridiculous. that explains why there aren't many indictments of police officers for murder. this officer was clearly not fit psychologically for the force. he lost it. he completely lost his cool when he was faced with alleged contempt of cop, but he's not responsible for the death of sandra bland. this was a suicide. the causal reasoning here is so remarkably attentionuated. yes, blacks are overrepresented
in the prison population, but study after study has shown that this is completely a function of their elevated rates of black crime. if you want to save black lives, which we all should, this best thing to do is to support the police, who have been responsible for a 50% drop in homicides over the last 20 years. the main beneficiaries of which have been law-abiding black residents of inner-city neighborhoods. >> brown: are you arguing the justice system is working as it should in these cases? >> i am arguing that. in this case i don't see any sign of a miscarriage of justice. what we need to be focusing on is the... every day 16 blacks are killed. they're not killed by white civilians. they're not killed by the cops. they're killed by gun violence. in september three children under the age of five were killed in cleveland leading the police chief there to beg in tears for attention to what's happening in the streets.
in cincinnati in july... >> i'd like to respond to that. >>. >> brown: brittany packnett. >> i'd like to respond to that. gun violence presents tragedies every day, but if black lives really matter to people like heather macdonald and other people who insist black-on-black crime is the real issue, then pay attention to poverty and pay attention to issues of education and pay attention to the fact that there is no correlation between community violence and police violence. in fact, in many departments where there have been a high incidents of police violence, there's been a low incidents of community violence, and the opposite can be said of many other departments. so we actually see no correlation between those things. at the end of the day, we know police violence is not the only thing plaguing our community, however, police violence is what has killed sandra bland, and she inner should have been arrested in the first place. >> brown: heather macdonald, respond to that, that she's pulling apart the argument that you just made, that one thing can exist, but there can also be
what she's talking about. >> police violence did not kill sandra bland. this was a police stop for a driving infraction that went horribly awry, but sandra bland committed suicide three weeks later. there is simply no causal connection between the officer and sandra bland's death, as horrible as sandra bland's death is and as tragic a loss to her family. the nation spends $1 trillion a year on inner city communities and trying to uplift people from poverty. that has not worked. what has worked is proactive policing, and the police are not racist. there have been some horrible individual instances in this last year, but that is a drop in the bucket comparedded to daily violence that is taking black lives. >> christa: we have less than a minute. brittney packnett, in the sandra bland case, there are now calls for a federal role. do you think that is important? would that make a difference? >> i think that's absolutely essentially.
and i think we can't get away from the basic fact that if officer ensee that hadn't been confrontational with san sandra bland and had not arrested her for failing the use a traffic signal, she would not be dead. to say there is no causal relationship is inaccurate. >> brown: very briefly, heather macdonald, what do you think about the federal role? >> it's unnecessary here. there's no sign of a pattern or practice of civil rights violations in this case. it's... there's simply not any kind of legal case for causation here on the part of officer encina or the police department or highway patrol from which he comes. again, everyone wants to protect plaque lives, and the best way to do that is for policeing to try to protect the community from gun violence. >> brown: all right. >> the best way to do that is to acknowledge what we live with every single day. >> brown: brittany packnett, heather macdonald, thank you both very much. >> thank you.
>> woodruff: stay with us. coming up on the newshour, a drug that's prompted a record number of calls to poison control; the n.f.l. player who gave up his career because of concussions; and why musician lera lynn sings about the darker side of things. but first, as the year comes to an end, we thought it would be a good idea to take stock and look back at america's diplomatic accomplishments and set-backs of 2015. it was another bloody year-- across the middle east, in afghanistan and on the african continent. the syrian civil war entered its fourth year, and in september, russia intervened to support syria's president bashar al- assad-- with air strikes that mostly hit rebels backed by the u.s. and its allies. meanwhile, iraqi government troops joined with kurdish
forces and u.s. military and air support. as the year ended, the iraqis were moving to recapture ramadi. but isis did hold on to much of it's territory in syria. and that helped send a flood of refugees and migrants from syria into europe, along with tens of thousands from africa and asia. tensions over migrants crescendoed when terrorists went on a rampage in paris, killing 130 and wounding hundreds. elsewhere, the fighting in eastern ukraine-- between russian backed separatists and the government-- subsided to some extent after a cease fire agreement was reached in minsk, belarus. but in asia, tensions rose between china and the united states and countries in the region, as beijing built up artificial islands, complete with military runways.
still, there were major diplomatic agreements reached, in 2015 as well. iran agreed to curtail its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of ecomomic sanctions; the united states and cuba re-opened embassies in each other's capitals and re-established diplomatic relations; twelve pacific rim countries concluded the trans pacific partnership trade agreement which lowers tariffs; 195 countries struck a landmark climate deal in paris-- it aims to cut man-made emissions and slow global warming; and just last week, the u.n. security council approved a framework for trying to end the syrian civil war. so is the u.s. better off from a national security perspective than it was a year ago? for that, we get the views of two people with extensive foreign policy making
experience: wendy sherman was under- secretary of state for political affairs during the obama administration. she was the lead u.s negotiator to the iran nuclear talks, and is now an advisor to the hillary clinton campaign; and richard haass served in both bush administrations. he's now the president of the council on foreign relations. we welcome you both to the program. wendy sherman, let me start with you that. fundamental question: is the u.s. better off today from national security perspective? >> no, judy, i think in many ways we are with one glaring exception, and this is isil and the terrorist threat. that's a glaring exception because it's created such anxiety and understandably sew among the american people, but our economy is in better shape. we have stopped iran from having a nuclear weapon. we've improved our relationships with cuba, which is having a knock-on effect on venezuela. we have created some development opportunities, and we have also
agreed on ppp, the trans. >> pacific partnership with 12 countries in asia, which is critical to our economic future. >> woodruff: i want to touch on a number of those, but richard haass, is the u.s. better off? >> sad to say, i would say not, in part because of the biggest one, the middle east dwarfs the other in the immediate effect, and it also added to such things as a resurgent global terrorism as well as the refugee flood in europe. most of the things on the good side are still to come. i hope tpp becomes a reality, but that becomes upon congress in 2016. paris, the climate change agreement is more promise than reality. >> woodruff: dealing with the islamic state, iraq, syria, how has the administration done? >> i was critical of the previous administration even though i was part of it for what it did in 2003 in launching the iraq war, and i think that added to the region's instability.
and i think what mr. obama has not done, in particular in syria, but also elsewhere in not following up in libya after removing the regime, and initially saying, well, u.s. forces were going to have to get out of afghanistan and taking u.s. forces out of iraq. in many ways an overreaction to the previous american administration and all this coupled with the pathologies of the region itself have left the middle east overall in some ways in terrible shape. i've compared it to the 30 years war that decimated europe in the 17th century. >> woodruff: wendy sherman, like the 30 years war? >> i think president obama has all the right elements in place. he's trying to pick up the pace of those elements, so whether that's a military effort, and today we see the iraqi army going into ramadi, which is very important to take that back from isil. we picked up the pace on foreign fighters, on financing, on attacking oil depots that isil holds on to, looking at
recruitment, dealing with social media, and the diplomatic effort. we just saw u.n. security council come together for the first time in a long time to agree on a diplomatic way forward. so we have the elements in place, but we have to pick up the pace of getting the job done. >> woodruff: richard haass, afghanistan is a very different place. we also know that isis has some presence there. how do you judge... the president has now said he's going to keep u.s. troops there longer than he said earlier. how do you see afghanistan going? >> not very well. in large part because, as you say, isis has put down a toe hold. you still have the taliban. they still enjoy a sanctuary in western pakistan, which is really undermined the u.s. effort for more than a decade now. plus you got to deal with all the ethnic fault lines of afghanistan's own politics and society. i think again we hurt ourselves by raising questions about the duration of the american commitment. but i'll be honest with you, judy, even without such
questions, afghanistan is one of the wrong places in the world to get overly ambitious. >> woodruff: you want the comment? >> i think the comment is we should feel good that ashraf ghani and abdullah abdullah have kept it together. there is a political process in place. there is a fight that's going on. but this is a very tough long-term effort, not only in afghanistan and the middle east but throughout the world because besides isil, we have... we still have al qaeda, aqap, boko haram, al-shabab, and we've got to make efforts on all of these places all over the would, but we can't forget the good that's happening as well as the bad. >> woodruff: wendy sherman, you worked on this iran nuclear deal for a long time. how is it going at this point? >> we're getting to implementation of the deal. we're being very tough about it. iran made specific commitments in this agreement. they have to follow through on
all of these commitments, so i think we are hopeful that the deal will ensure that iran cannot get a nuclear weapon, not for ten years, not for 15 years, but forever. >> woodruff: richard haass, the iran deal? >> i agree it makes things better for the next 10 or 15 years. it significantly reduces iranian capabilities in the nuclear area. at the same time, on the other side of the ledge, it gives iran access to far more resources than it otherwise would have access to to pursue a foreign policy that in many cases is inimical to our own interest. i think the biggest questions come after the ten and 15-year time limits and dealing with centrifuges and enriched uranium. i don't think wendy or anyone else can say we're for sure or confident that iran can't have a nuclear weapon at that point. the quantitative and qualitative limits come off and we have to hope the inspections and our willingness to react if indeed we see iran moving toward a
nuclear weapon again, that that's enough. >> woodruff: well, i realize i'm asking you both to deal with some very big questions in a short period of time, but richard haass, what about, and i don't want to lump them together, but what about russia and china? these are two big countries, very different challenges they pose to the united states. but where do you see the u.s. headed with these two? >> difficult relationships with both, judy. in some ways we're seeing the revival of great power politics. and in both cases you have leaders, which worries me, who are quite unconstrained by bureaucratic or organizational factors. they each have tremendous freedom of action. russia has seemed to have moved somewhat its focus from playing around in ukraine to the middle east, and we'll just have to see whether over time they're willing to play a responsible role of taking on isis. so far we have not seen much of any of that. china continues to try to become more of a regional power, and i think there the administration is right to do the overflights,
to do the freedom of navigation cruises, to push back against china and to reassure our allies, in particular japan. >> woodruff: wendy sherman, russia, china? >> this is all about wary engagement. these are important powers. they each have roles not only regionally but in the world. they're both permanent members of the security council that both have veto power in the security council, and so we'll have to deal with them, work with them where we can on climate with china, on the iran deal, and hopefully on syria with both russia and china, and where we can't, where russia invaded, ukraine tried to take crimea permanently into its own orbit, we'll have to be as tough as we are and we invoked new sanctions yet again today on russia for what they've done in ukraine. so engainment. >> woodruff: finally, we're going into a presidential election year. what are each of you most
hopeful about and most worried about going into this year. wendy sherman? >> the american people are really hopeful folks, and even though they are concerned about this terrorism threat, the vast majority of people want to proceed forward. they want this economy to improve. they want the gap between the rich and the poor to diminish. they want to make sure they're safe and secure, but they want their kids to have a better future. that's what they want to be focused on. so i hope the rhetoric of this campaign doesn't go out ahead of where the american people really are and what they hope for. >> meaghan: richard haass, 2016? >> most hopeful we can get passage of the trans-pacific trade agreement, even more than the economics. so that is strategically essential if america is going to once again going to look to be reliable and predictable. what i'm most worried about. there it's a long, beginning with the middle east. also their levels of growth around the world and always the possibility of a surprise. we have not mentioned north korea. we haven't mentioned pakistan. we haven't really talked much
about the possibility of domestic terrorism. there are a lot of clouds on the 2016 horizon unfortunately. >> woodruff: richard hawrs, wendy sherman, tackling the whole world for us. thank you. >> thank you. >> woodruff: tonight we have a story on the rise of the drug synthetic marijuana, commonly known as spice or k2. this year has seen a record number of calls to poison control regarding the substance, and law enforcement around the country are learning how to cope with the unpredictable, dangerous drug. we now learn more about this deadly cocktail from pbs newshour correspondent william brangham. >> tonight a local teen's personal account of his addiction to the synthetic drug, k2. this legal weed can have extreme, dangerous medical side effects. >> i hit it two times. >> wrappers that look just like this. >> and then, i don't remember anything.
>> it's just as dangerous as pot, cocaine or meth, but one scary difference: your kids can buy it at local stores. >> i remember i woke up in the hospital. my throat hurt so bad, and i was like, "why is my throat hurting?" and that was because they had to put a tube down my throat, because i couldn't breathe. >> synthetic marijuana. >> and then, my mom told me what happened, and, apparently, i had a seizure at the park. >> brangham: 16-year-old molly is a resident at the mountain manor treatment center in baltimore, and she's here because of her experience using so-called synthetic marijuana, or "fake pot." >> synthetic marijuana comes with a quick and powerful high, but it comes with a price. >> brangham: these drugs have been in the news a lot lately, but, despite their street name, they're not at all like actual marijuana. >> even that the term says "synthetic marijuana," it's not marijuana. the effects are completely different. >> brangham: dr. kama tillman works the emergency room at howard university hospital in washington, d.c., and he's seen a surge in the number of
patients coming through his doors suffering ill effects from these synthetic drugs. >> they're belligerent, they're wild. their body's just moving around where they can't control it and requires maybe people to kind of help keep them calm so that they don't harm themselves or harm anybody else. you get a lot more people who get that agitation, the psychosis, the paranoia, even convulsions, and, in some cases death from this drug. >> brangham: there were at least 15 deaths from synthetic cannabis use in the first five months of 2015, and experts stress the difficulty of tracking the harm from these unfamiliar substances. poison control hotlines have seen a record number of calls about synthetic drugs across the country-- almost 7,000 calls so far this year. >> i think this is the emerging face of drug abuse for the future. >> brangham: dr. marilyn huestis is a toxicologist at the national institute on drug abuse, and she and her team study the chemical makeup of synthetic drugs. >> the big problem is, new drugs come out, and they're very
potent, up to 100 times as potent as cannabis. >> brangham: a hundred times as potent. >> up to. some are 50 times. some are 100 times, the most potent ones. >> brangham: and she says they're often made in foreign facilities, with an ever- changing cocktail of chemicals. >> it's like taking a 1,000- piece jigsaw puzzle and throwing it up in the air and having to put it back together without a picture. that's what we're trying to do. >> brangham: synthetic marijuana was originally created for research purposes in the 1990s by a chemist named john huffman. but manufacturers soon realized they could take huffman's chemical recipe, spray it onto chopped up plants and sell it to consumers. with brand names like "k2," "spice" and "scooby snax," these synthetic drugs were originally sold in gas stations and smoke shops as a "legal" alternative to marijuana. but as evidence of the drug's harms grew, public officials began cracking down. some cities like washington,
d.c., have been revoking the licenses of retailers caught selling the drugs. d.c. has also mounted a big ad campaign to scare kids away from the drug. >> it's like we're a bunch of lab rats injecting unknown and harmful chemicals into our bodies just to get a quick high. and they make a quick profit at our expense. >> brangham: dr. marc fishman treats adolescent addictions at the mountain manor center, and he says another reason why synthetics took off several years ago is that they're hard to detect. >> one of the issues that i am sure you've heard is that they don't show up well in urine drug tests. so, one of the advantages to some people is that they can get away with it. >> brangham: you can get high and not get busted. >> get high and not busted. some of the kids will call it "probation weed." >> i first heard about it in high school. so, my buddies were doing it, and i was smoking weed at the time so they told me that there was something called synthetic weed that didn't come up on my drug test. my parents were always on me.
so, i remember the first time i tried it; i was in my buddy's basement, and, you know, [no audio] just... it made me crazy. >> brangham: dr. fishman says that this puzzling mix of chemicals, while alarming to researchers, can actually be appealing to adolescents. >> telling a young person, "you don't know what you're getting, be careful your brain might explode," doesn't change the momentary thrill seeking where they're so... >> brangham: that may sound like a pitch for the drug. >> exactly, exactly. >> i didn't look it up, i didn't search about it. i was like, "this is going to get me high." that's... that's really all you're thinking about. >> brangham: the spread of synthetics has also caused challenges for law enforcement. andrew struhar is acting lieutenant of the narcotics unit of the washington d.c. police. >> two, three years ago, this was a legal substance, you know. >> brangham: you could just buy it in a store. >> and it wasn't scheduled by the federal government, so therefore it wasn't a narcotic, really. it had a narcotic effect, but it
was legal to purchase, legal to possess, legal to use. and, you know, a lot of agencies-- whether they be regulatory, law enforcement or in government legislature-- are trying to catch up with, you know, what these products are. >> brangham: all 50 states have now outlawed synthetic drugs in some way, but the problem is, manufacturers keep changing the chemical makeup of the drugs to try and skirt the laws and claim that their products aren't "technically" illegal. it becomes this never-ending cat and mouse game. now, look, this one says, "complies with senate bill 3187, house bill 1175. legal schedule." this is claiming it's legal. >> right. and they do it typically on the back, as you can see on the back. they go through all their disclaimers, and it says right on there, "disclaimer." and if you look at... >> brangham: "sold as incense only. not for human consumption." >> "is designed specifically for aromatic potpourri use." i mean, nobody sells potpourri in 3.5 gram packets.
>> brangham: it's not just individual sales; in a sign of the growing scale of these operations, officials in washington d.c. recently seized 265 pounds of synthetics from a d.c. warehouse. it was one of the biggest busts of its kind, a total street value of $2.3 million, according to police. and as this formerly legal drug retreats underground, those who use it have also been changing. police and clinicians note an apparent decrease in use among young and middle-class users, and a rise among vulnerable groups like the poor and the homeless-- proof to experts that the threat of these drugs is far from over and the dangers still unknown. >> it's a major problem, and we don't know... all these people who are trying this now, what is this doing to their brains? what's it going to be like in five years? ten years? >> brangham: because we just don't know the answers to those... >> we don't know. we don't have the beginning of answers. >> brangham: meanwhile, the questions just continue to pile up. for the pbs newshour, i'm william brangham, washington, d.c.
>> woodruff: now, the risks of concussion and long-term brain injury from football. it is a subject that looms large in a sport that's arguably become the national pastime, and it is very much back in the news as the film "concussion" opens later this week. tonight, "frontline" has updated its two-hour special, "league of denial." it includes a new interview with a former linebacker and emerging star in the n.f.l., who captured attention when he walked away from the game. here's a look at some of "frontline's" new reporting about borland. >> nfl star chris borland was known as a fearless player, but after one season he quit because he was afraid of head injuries. >> i couldn't really justify
playing for money, and i think what i wanted to achieve put me at too great of a risk, so i just decided on another profession. >> now borland is called the most dangerous man in football, a powerful symbol of the nfl's growing concussion crisis. >> if the nfl is smart, they're scared of chris borland and the people that will come after them. >> like so many young kids in america, borland grew up loving football. >> in a lot of ways i was born into football. i knew it was what i was going to do. i loved it. i stuck with it. i realized my dream. >> in high school, his climb to the nfl began on youtube. >> chris borland with a diving tackle. >> the hit went viral. borland was on his way the big-time college football. the university of wisconsin's promotional highlights showcase number 44, chris borland's
aggressive hits. after four seasons, pay dirt. >> the san francisco 49ers select chris borland. >> it was a dream come true. i can remember my brothers jumping up and hugging me, and it's surreal to see your anymore across the ticker and the analysts start to talk about you, and you're playing in the nfl. >> the 49ers gave him the number 50 jersey, a four-year contract worth nearly $3 million, and a signing bonus worth more than $600,000. >> he was just a heat-seeking missile, this guy. he was looking at a long-term career. yeah, he was looking at everything that the nfl brings you. >> but as borland was becoming a star, the nfl's concussion crisis was hard to ignore. >> he began the think about all the violence he was inflicting and experiencing, and i think he found that morally trouble sonl. >> he began reading everything
he could about the effects of football on his brain. >> i knew of cte. i didn't know what the acronym stood for. i started with google searches. i started looking at things, what does this term mean? what has the research done? >> what he learned terrified him. >> it's tough. i mean, i... you understand on a certain level what you're doing, but you don't know the science behind it. >> borland then went even further. he called a leading brain scientist at boston university. >> in football one has to expect that almost every play of every game of every practice, you're going to be hitting your heads against each other. each time that happens, that's 20gs or more. that's the equivalent of driving a car at 35mph enter a brick wall 1,000, 1,500 times per year. >> after that call, that very day borland retired. >> the idea that just the basis
of the game, repetitive hits, bring on a cascade of issues later in life, that changed the game for me. >> borland's decision to leave the nation's most powerful sports league instantly made headlines. >> san francisco 49ers linebacker chris borland has... >> retired from nfl due to concussion returns. >> this was massive blow. the profound act of an nfl player walking away from $3 million and fame and a chance to play professional football, it's just incalculable. >> at nfl headquarters, they responded immediately. commissioner roger goodell himself hit the airwaves to defend the game. >> i think our game has never been more exciting. it's never been more competitive. and i don't think it's ever been safer. >> it's dishonest, and i don't think it's responsible to say that the game is safer. i think that's just not true,
and the players themselves on the field know... they scoff at that. that's not accurate. >> it's been a year since he walked away. the first fall in ten years chris borland hasn't suited up. >> last year the nfl commissioned actuaries to estimate how many nfl veterans would have brain damage, and the number they came up with was three out of ten. so if i turn on a game and one-third of the guys will have brain damage in life, i just... i can't really support that. and i just don't really watch football anymore if it's on. i may peek at it, but i don't... >> woodruff: "frontline" did ask the nfl for a response inch a statement the league said, "we respect chris borland's decision and wish him all the best. playing any sport is a personal decision by any measure.
football has never been safer. we continue to make progress with rule changes, safer tackling techniques and better equipment. protocols and medical care for players. player safety will be our top priority." a reminder: you can watch "frontline" tonight, right here on your pbs station. tomorrow night, we'll have a report on the film "concussion," and the true story behind it. >> woodruff: finally tonight, a new occasional series here on the newshour, that gives artists an opportunity to talk about their work. we call it "my music." we start with lera lynn, an up-and-coming singer-songwriter who recently completed her u.s. tour, and was featured in the hbo series, true detective. take a listen:
♪ ♪ she knows she does >> there is something really attractive about darkness to me. ♪ she knows she does. you have your sycophants the cowards ♪ i've read studies that listening to sad music actually creates positive emotion, so i'm just trying to change the world. just kidding. my name is lera lynn. i'm an independent musician. a lot of people that come into the shows find out about me through "true detective."
♪ ♪ thankfully they have dug a little bit more. i think that's the best possible scenario for me. my family is texan. and i think especially now, i'm really starting to feel the impact of their upbringing on me, because it's coming out in the music in a big way. there's been a lot of country music, a lot of classic rock. even jazz. my mom loved joni mitchell. there was even, you know, a lot of van halen in the house. it is kind of all over the place really. i think that's got a lot to do
with why my style varies such a great deal. the opening track from my latest record, the avenue, it's called out to sea. and i had a friend whose roommate had a girlfriend who was in love with him, and he was really not very into. and he broke it off with her, and she just couldn't bear it. she told us all since we were a group of friends that she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. ♪ i wish i may i wish i might ♪ find my way tonight >> we were all very shocked and saddened by the news. later we found out that it was, in fact, a lie, and just a means
to keep this guy close to her. so in the interim, the news and the truth, i wrote out this song, which is about facing death, you know, facing your mortality. we paired it with major key and an upbeat track so it's not as dark as it might seem. if you're trying to get into songwriting and you're intimidated by it, know that everyone is at first, and you just have to jump. nobody ever has to hear it or read your lyrics or anything. you just have to write and keep writing and let inspiration and
your own artistic voice shine through. >> woodruff: on the newshour online: it is a misconception that the holidays are a bad time to search for a job. if you're ready to make a change, don't sit out the two weeks before new year's, says our jobs guru in this week's "ask the headhunter" column, which you can find on our homepage, www.pbs.org/newshour. and that's the newshour for tonight. on wednesday we'll look at islam in america, through the eyes of two muslim women. i'm judy woodruff. join us on-line, and again here tomorrow evening. for all of us at the pbs newshour, thank you
and good night. >> major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ moving our economy for 160 years. bnsf, the engine that connects us. >> lincoln financial-- committed to helping you take charge of your financial future. >> the ford foundation. working with visionaries on the frontlines of social change worldwide.
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♪ >> this is bbc "world news america." >> funding of this presentation is made possible by the freeman foundation, newman's own foundation, giving all profits from newman's own to charity and pursuing the common good, kovler foundation, pursuing solutions for america's neglected needs, metlife premier client group, and sony pictures classics, now presenting "grandma." >> you know, i cut my credit cards up. i made a wind chime out of them. all coffee drips. you don't have to say drip coffee. that is a redundancy -- oh, look. oh, my god, it drips. >> you must not have a lot of friends. >> [laughs] >> do you want a tattoo? >> i'd love one. >> now that i can do. >> any idiot cou